Mandy and the World

Find out what I've been up to on my overseas adventure!

A Home Away From Home

on March 20, 2016

Now that we have been living in Nuku’alofa, the capital of the Kingdom of Tonga, for a few weeks, I thought I would share some of what it’s like to live in this happy island nation. Of course, this is only based on my short experience to date, but I feel like the differences are more noticeable at the beginning of a new venture than they will be in a few months’ time so am writing it before I well and truly get used to everything!

To begin with, I guess I should tell you about my house. We are pretty lucky to be based in a great location a few minutes’ bike ride from the centre of Nuku’alofa in an area called Pili (however I don’t think you can find this area labelled as such even in google maps). As a matter of fact, addresses are fairly non-existent here, I don’t even know if the road our house is on has a name!  Directions are pretty much given based on the few major roads with names people know and landmarks such as churches and shops. Eg. ‘Go straight down Mateialona Road, past the 2 roundabouts and the green falekoloa (shop) on the corner. Pass the small white church on the left, our road is the next one on the right with the new white street light and a vacant block on the corner’. We have to give these kind of directions to the water company who deliver our drinking water or to taxi drivers.

Our house is on a block with another house where a lovely Tongan family live. We have a big yard with an umu (ground oven) as well as many fruit trees (breadfruit, banana, papaya, lime, guava) as well as a curry leaf tree and some lemongrass.

We also have two dogs who we have dubbed Champ and Sprocket (apparently they belonged to some volunteers who previously lived here). Champ is quite young and crazy energetic, he still likes to nip a bit when he is trying to play, but Sprocket is pretty chilled and likes to lie down for a lot of the day.

We kind of share care of the dogs with the family next door. The family are quite generous and often bring us a plate of food from the umu on Sundays, and also lend Ben and I their coconut husker so we can make our own coconut milk and dessicated coconut.

Our house itself is quite large, we have a good sized kitchen with a gas oven and stovetop, though the oven has no temperature gauge which has been interesting for my baking addiction! The gas bottle is located in a cupboard under the sink however… The town water supply is safe to drink, though is quite hard – our electric kettle has calcified shut and we can’t open the top anymore! But in addition to the town water, we also have a rainwater tank shared with next door, as well as our bottled drinking water supply (in the big 20L containers with a dispenser).

The taps don’t have great pressure, but we have a pump outside in the laundry we can turn on before a shower and have a decent spray. We can also have hot showers if we turn on the gas bottle in the laundry, but we’ve mostly been having cold showers while the weather has been warm. We often use rainwater to do the washing (because it is free) but this makes doing the laundry quite a process, as my house-husband Ben can attest to! We have a couple of buckets which he fills at the tank out the front and walks around to put in the washing machine out the back. Then the wash goes and when it finishes you drain it and bring more water from the tank for the rinse. After the rinse you put all the wet clothes from the washing tub into the spinning tub and then they are ready to hang out! Ben is really earning his dependant stars with that ordeal each week…

Ben and I have scored a big bedroom- it’s actually bigger than we had in Katherine, so we have plenty of room for our 2 suitcases worth of stuff! Our lounge room is about the size of a tennis court with an old but giant TV (of dubious quality… In the words of Ben: ‘When you watch anything it looks as if someone has smeared butter all over the screen’). We do get a channel called Australia Plus, so Ben can watch some of his favourite ABC shows and some of the footy as well. Despite the two 3-seater couches, a 2-seater couch, 3 armchairs, giant TV and cabinet in the lounge, all 4 of us can also keep our bikes inside!

Since we have arrived, the climate has generally been quite nice. We just had a week of pretty continuous rain which has amped up the humidity but brought some nice breezes. It has gotten hot at times, but our fan has been able to take the edge off. No luxury AC here, but the nights luckily aren’t as hot as a Katherine wet season!

In terms of other luxuries, there is not too much we are having to go without to be honest. One thing of note is that we are now living in a world of 1-ply toilet paper, which I don’t think I succumbed to even as a student! The bug situation here is probably comparable to the NT, we have had some ants recently and we get a few spiders (mostly daddy-long-legs for potential visitors!), but I would say less cockroaches here than in Katherine. Mozzies can be annoying but our house is really well fly-screened so we haven’t had trouble at home, mostly when we go out. The Tongan symphony of the night has taken some getting used to though, with typical selections including chorus of dogs, dog chasing chicken, rooster crowing and/or squealing pig.

On the side note of mosquitoes, I imagine people have heard quite a bit of the Zika Virus hype in the media recently. It is present in Tonga, but from what I have heard from a few people who have had it is symptomatically, it is a lot milder than the other common mosquito-borne illnesses in Tonga (Chikingunya and Dengue Fever). Many people are even asymptomatic. The main factor of concern is the possible link for pregnant women who get infected and microcephaly in their babies, as well a possible link with Guillian-Barre syndrome, but there’s not a lot of firm information around at the moment. We just have to douse ourselves in repellent, cover up and hope for the best.

With regards to material things, on the whole, though some things are less available than in Australia, we still have access to a lot. The internet is more expensive compared to home and we have data limits which takes some getting used to after mostly unlimited usage/streaming etc. in Australia, but we have unlimited data between 12am and 6am, so have to save our downloads for the wee hours! Also some food items we love at home can be more expensive and/or hard to find here, eg. Coffee, nuts, dried fruit, yoghurt, cheese, chocolate, wine, but we are rationing them if we buy them which makes us enjoy them when we have them. (Except for the coffee… I am still having that everyday! You can take the girl out of Melbourne, but you can’t take Melbourne out of the girl!) I have become a big fan of the Easiyo yoghurt maker, and am making my own yoghurt from milk powder these days which is a lot more economical than buying it here and means I can still enjoy my favourite breakfast food (thanks to Sustainable Suburbia for the know-how). It really is super easy; I don’t know why I haven’t done this forever!

IMG_3717

Luxury items here in Tonga…

On the topic of food, shopping here is a bit of an adventure as you often need to visit several different stores and the market depending on what you want and who has it that week. There are several fresh food markets in different areas of town for your fruit and veggies; the fish market with fresh, unscaled, ungutted fish; the fish shop where you can buy big chunks of larger fish (like tuna) pre-scaled and gutted; several butchers and bakeries (but to get multigrain bread your best bet is the largest bakery and you have to get there early in the day!); the dairy shop which has the cheapest cheese… Then certain stores are renowned for having a good supply of affordable spices, others for having a variety of canned goods like corn kernels, chickpeas or beans, others for having the cheapest dried fruit. Everyone told us when we arrived- if you see something and you want it, BUY IT! Because it might not be there next time you go back… or even for several months after!

One of the other quirks of life here so far is the Sunday shut down. It is quite nice to have a designated day of rest and wake up to the sound of church bells ringing, but can cause unplanned inconveniences in other ways. We had an incident in our second week here where we were cooking dinner on Saturday night and the gas ran out. Our house has two gas bottles- one for the oven and one to heat water for the shower. Since all the shops tend to close around 1pm on a Saturday and don’t open again until Monday, we had the ingenious idea to swap the kitchen gas bottle for the laundry gas bottle so we could finish making our dinner. After a half hour bottle-changing interlude we managed to finish cooking – cold showers til Monday but a warm dinner on Saturday! Worst case scenario, the bakery has a license to operate on a Sunday, as well as a few restaurants so we wouldn’t have gone hungry. The bakery is actually a popular hangout on Sunday afternoons where people can go and buy huge trays of 60 cream buns or 7 loaves of white bread to feed the hoardes!

I think I will have to write a whole other post on Tongan food, so more on that next time. Til then, big hugs from the friendly isles 🙂

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One response to “A Home Away From Home

  1. Lesley Hil says:

    Very interesting as always Mandy. Weare learning a lot so keep it up . Do you have a mailing addresssxxx

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